All the cynicism in the world is not proof against someone winning something for your country. What an unexpected surge of pride when Narain Karthikeyan took the podium and the national anthem played. It’s so rare, this event.
There is cricket of course but then again, not quite. Maybe it’s just that with cricket it’s gone on too long. It’s a continual cycle; we win today, we lose tomorrow, there’s a scandal the day after. It’s somehow always the match on your street, wickets outlined with white chalk on someone’s wall.
Or maybe it's that cricket somehow does not seem to provide… theatre. For one thing, they stroll on to the pitch with terrible casualness. No team standing shoulder to shoulder, facing their fate with grim determination, like soldiers defending their borders to the death. No tearful pledges to God and mama. No opera...
If an important coach died in the middle of the FIFA World Cup, mainland Europe would have come to a grinding halt. All and sundry would have claimed the loss as their own and beaten their breasts in the streets. Church bells would have tolled across South America. The stands would have been awash in black armbands. The Vatican itself may have felt compelled to say a few words on the properties of dust, ashes and grass. And half of Britain’s male population would have taken the opportunity to kill or maim the other half.
In short, there would have been enough drama to last for the next three World Cups. That’s not easy to achieve with cricket, even with racist abuse.
Come to think of it, a racist remark was one of the many rumoured reasons for Zinedine Zidane’s problem with Materazzi, but Zizou didn’t think to have a gentlemanly word with his captain about it. He lost his temper, head-butted Materazzi and threw away the final game of his brilliant career. Drama. Most important factor of football.
It inspires it, too. My disbelieving shock when the referee pulled out the red card was very real. I shouted myself hoarse with everyone else: “No no no, not his final game”. Watched the replay of the offence that everybody missed. And then the awful silence, because you knew it had to be a red card.
For me, as for many others, the game ended when Zidane walked off the field. It didn’t matter who won or lost or how many weird bets you had riding on the result. Your mind played an involuntary edit in slow-motion of Zidane scoring against Spain. Zidane becoming World Player of the Year for the third time. Zidane dancing the ball down the field as if he was Brazilian. Now, Zidane walking into the stadium, head bowed. It was the end of the world, though we were wearing Italy’s colours that night.
You can’t help this emotion with football, the moment takes you.
This post was supposed to be a paean to Narain Kartikeyan and an erudite, enlightening comment on patriotism and sport. Instead, it’s become a personal poster-waving for one player. But then isn't that exactly where all discussions of sport lead?
Le bleu de tes yeux, Edith Piaf, 1950s
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